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A&E Home Video presents
Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Fifth Season (1975)

"To be a butler in this house is a sacred trust."
- Angus Hudson (Gordon Jackson)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: August 28, 2002

Stars: Jacqueline Tong, Angela Baddeley, Christopher Beeny, Gordon Jackson, David Langton, Jenny Tomasin, Lesley-Anne Down, Jean Marsh, Simon Williams
Other Stars: Gareth Hunt, Hannah Gordon, Karen Dotrice, Joan Benham, Anne Yarker, Anthony Andrews, Madeleine Cannon, Raymond Huntley, Jonathan Seely, Celia Bannerman, Shirley Cain, Ursula Howells, John Quayle, Jack Watson, Robert Hardy, Joan Sanderson, Anthony Andrews, Osmund Bullock
Director: Bill Bain, Christopher Hodson, Derek Bennett, Simon Langton, James Ormerod, Cyril Coke

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mature content)
Run Time: 13h:17m:49s
Release Date: August 27, 2002
UPC: 733961705133
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+B-B D

DVD Review

The fifth season brings one of television's most compelling and quality dramas to a close, and it is not without a note of sadness that this reviewer finds himself scribing his thoughts on the series' conclusion. Through the course of five seasons, Upstairs, Downstairs audiences have experienced the changing face of the Bellamy household, from the staunch aristocracy of Edwardian England, through the first World War and here, bringing in a era of change and new hope with the roaring twenties. Along the way, those under the roof of 165 Eaton Place have found and lost love, seen triumphs and tragedy, faced scandal and the uncertainty of a world undergoing a rebirth. Through it all, the characters have evolved as distinct individuals from their ensemble beginnings.

While many consider the fourth season the pinnacle, these final episodes, covering 1919 to 1930, are rich in everything that made the production great: excellent writing and brilliant acting by a superb cast, resulting in memorable, very loveable characters. While still serial in nature, there is less carry over from one show to the next in terms of overall plot, especially compared to season four. More than previous seasons, the episodes here are extremely dense in their construction, packing as much as possible into each story. With the show's huge popularity, London Television were hoping that producer John Hawkesworth would continue into a sixth season, but it was felt that by the 1930s, the era of the great house was all but over, and the ages of the characters were beginning to be stretched too far. The concession was the production of an additional three installments, making sixteen in total, which were shot after the original finale had wrapped.

Having survived the war, the Bellamy household has nonetheless been scathed by it. The world is a different place, and for every member of the house, there are remnants of the past that will never be forgotten. For James, the loss of his wife has left him adrift; with no more wartime responsibilities, he is very much alone. His father, now a viscount, has found happiness in a new wife, who will now become mistress of the house. Having served as a nurse in France, Georgina will, through the course of this season, mature from the carefree young lady she was when we first met her into a woman with hopes for the future, tempered by the events she will face.

Downstairs, the signs of progress will shown themselves as well. Angus Hudson, butler, and his long time work companion, Kate Bridges, the cook, strive to maintain the dignity and standards their positions have traditionally honored. Given their duties during the war, and the changing attitudes in society, the younger staff is no longer content to follow in lifelong servitude. While Rose still respects the position she holds in the Bellamy house, Edward and Daisy have there eyes on a better life, having moved on as the series opens, and though still as hopeless as ever, Ruby is not beyond her own aspirations.

This is easily the finest season for individual performances, though singling any one person out is next to impossible, as each is given time to shine. The returning cast all excel in the roles, and newcomers Hannah Gordon (Virginia) and Gareth Hunt (Frederick Norton) add a new flavor, and also enjoyable was the greater presence of Joan Benham as Lady Prudence Fairfax.

There are dozens of standout scenes in this collection, running the gamut of emotions as the trials and tribulations of the house unfold. There is a good diversity of settings as well, and location shooting is also featured on many occasions. Producers John Hawkesworth and Joan Sullivan received an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series, while Jacqueline Tong (Daisy) received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. However, awards alone can't represent the exceptional storytelling, and exquisite chemistry embodied by this fine ensemble cast, who give life and depth to their roles and relationships. Upstairs, Downstairs truly captures the finest in television drama with this last chapter in the Bellamy saga.



On With the Dance - Summer 1919

"Some of us is going to have to look for new places. Don't 'ave to be a fortune teller to see that." - Rose

The season opens with the victory procession. Now that Edward and Daisy have left domestic service and entered civilian life, there is new staff on hand. Frederick Norton (Gareth Hunt), James' former batman is on as footman, and Lily (Karen Dotrice) is working under Rose. With only James and Georgina in residence, and Lord Bellamy and his new wife seeking their own house, Eaton Place is overstaffed. James is not adjusting well to his new life with Hazel's death and the war over. He suggests his father and Virginia (Hannah Gordon) move in to Eaton place, but Virginia is resistant to the idea, leaving James no choice but to put the staff on notice.

There is a error at 43m:46s where the scene repeats itself for a few seconds.

4 dinner bells.





A Place in the World - February 1920

"Can we truly claim to be building a land fit for heroes to live in?" - Angus Hudson, quoting James Bellamy

After a heart felt letter to the papers criticizing the government's handling of the ex-servicemen, James is sought after for a position in politics, much to his father's dismay. Edward and Daisy show up at the servant's hall, but it seems life out of service isn't quite living up to expectations, and Hudson's smugness at their plight causes Edward to create a scene. James hits the campaign trail, but his audience is hostile.

The mood of the post war working class is presented, with a call for the dismantling of the class system. Christopher Beeny delivers an impassioned performance in a row with Hudson, before his character, Edward and Daisy return to service at Eaton Place.

4 dinner bells.





Laugh a Little Louder Please - Summer 1921

"This is not the kind of household in which we indulge in petty arguments about who is to carry a tray upstairs." - Hudson

Lord and Lady Bellamy are abroad. Georgina has a new suitor in Robin Eliott (Omond Bullock), an unemployed friend of James'. Rose has her hands full with the children until the new governess arrives. Entertaining the latest dance crazes, Georgina convinces James to allow a wild costume party, but the staff is unnerved by the shocking attire of the guests and the arrival of a Negro band—and fully unprepared for the tragic aftermath.

Miss Treadwell (Shirley Cain), the governess, makes her debut in this episode.

4 dinner bells.





The Joy Ride - Autumn 1921

"In a residence of this size, the butler is responsible at all times for the smooth running of the household." - Hudson

Georgina is off to America, and James uses an inheritance to buy an aeroplane. Rose tries to give Lily some advice about James' playboy past. Hudson gets touchy when Frederick suggests helping out with the butler's chores. When Virginia accepts James' invitation to go flying, Richard enlists Prudence's support in the House, where he is opening an important speech. When Major Bellamy and Virginia fail to return on schedule, there is considerable anxiety throughout the house, as they begin to imagine the worst.

A nice chance for Joan Benham to get more than a cameo.

4 dinner bells.





Wanted—A Good Home - Spring 1922

"We're the only nation in the world that tears the male patrician child from the bosom of his family, to be subjected to football, cold baths and Latin infinitives at the tender age of eight years." - James Bellamy

Master William is going off to school, and his mother gets Alice to keep her company. It's time for spring cleaning, and Lord Bellamy and Virginia travel to France, leaving Miss Treadwell in charge of the house. The governess quickly gets on the staff's nerves, but when she announces that she wants the dog put down, the servants are forced to take a stand.

A brilliant and hilarious episode.

4 dinner bells.





An Old Flame - Spring 1923

"That's absurd Edward. Imagine every house in London with a wee pole sticking up from the roof." - Hudson

Edward demonstrates the latest technology—a wireless. James has been frequenting a late night club, and runs into Diana Newbury, and they make arrangements to spend a weekend in the country—without her husband. In his master's affairs, Edward's discretion is being called upon, and Diana's maid, Violet, is making advances of her own. When Bunny discovers his wife has run off with his best friend, the fallout isn't quite what was expected, but James isn't the only one in the dog house as a result.

"I wish I could see into the future" - James

Once again the fear of scandal rocks the house. Jaqueline Tong is marvelous as a somewhat jealous Daisy.

4 dinner bells.





Disillusion - Spring 1924

"I shall have to try and find out very tactfully if there's anything unsuitable going on downstairs." - Virginia Bellamy

Miss Georgina returns from America, and soon stumbles onto a downstairs secret. When Lily's new suitor turns out to be Hudson, the Bellamy household is in thrown into an uproar. Hudson has found himself revitalized by the young underhouse parlor maid, but while intentions are most honorable, it seems he has been misreading the young girl's attentions. However, his aren't the only feelings that may be hurt.

"It's going against all you've stood for over the years, or what's proper and respectable." - Mrs. Bridges

This story references the first season's Why is Her Door Locked? and provides some great character moments between Gordon Jackson and Angela Baddeley.



4 dinner bells.





Such a Lovely Man - Summer 1925

"We were told we'd all made a mess of things... that after the war, we must leave it to all the younger men. But the younger men are either cynical or dead." - Lord Richard Bellamy

In hope it will further his career, Richard convinces Virginia to invite a rich and influential bachelor (Robert Hardy, All Creatures Great and Small) to luncheon, but the event doesn't go off quite as planned. When the gentleman's attentions lead to a potential scandal, Richard and Virginia have to settle their accounts, each with a secret or two to bear. Downstairs, the staff is concerned when Ruby gets herself a penpal—and a potential husband.

While not the strongest of episodes, Hannah Gordon (Virginia) is afforded a spotlight, as is Jenny Tomasin (Ruby).

3.5 dinner bells.





The Nine Days Wonder - May 1926

"The whole world's gone stark staring mad." - James

A general strike has been called, which has the household rattled, and the country has ground to a standstill. While Georgina and her friends think the whole thing is a lark, James is espousing the worst. He takes up work as a blacklegger driving an omnibus, and Hudson has reenlisted as a special constable. When Ruby's uncle, a member of the striking miner's union, shows up, downstairs is divided, with Hudson's fervent passion causing a confrontation.



4 dinner bells.





The Understudy - September 1926

"There is nothing more insufferable at a dinner party than a footman with squeaky shoes." - Hudson

Richard is trying to hold an important dinner for the French ambassador, but his family isn't making it easy, abandoning him for their own appointments. When they finally do come around, it falls on Georgina to act as hostess. When Hudson suffers a serious ailment as the guests are about to arrive, the battle lines are drawn over the succession of the butlery, both down and upstairs.

Another stellar performance demonstrating the chemistry of the cast. This is the first of the "gusset" episodes shot after the completion of the original thirteen.

5 dinner bells.





Alberto - June 1927

"I've never smouldered before." - Georgina Worsley

James is off to Ascot with Edward, leaving Georgina with the house to herself. Her friend Dolly (Madeleine Cannon) sets her up with a producer who wishes her to appear in one of his films. While Daisy tries her hand flirting with Frederick, the stand-in butler has his eyes on life above his station. James objects to Georgina's associating with film people, especially when she makes the papers, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Prudence demonstrates her observatory skills, and Mrs. Bridges has some words of advice.

This installment heralds back to the tone of the first season, this time with Madeleine Cannon at the heart of the mischief.

3.5 dinner bells.





Will Ye No Come Back Again

"I shall be returning to the land of my forefathers." - Hudson

The Bellamy household travels to a fishing lodge in Scotland for a week. With no provisions or electricity, the local gillie (Jack Watcon) advises the servants to pack up and return to London, with a ghostly tale of a slain laird to add to the already dour atmosphere. James' fishing plans are thwarted, Ruby is hearing spirits, and Hudson uncovers some foul play of his own. When Lord Bellamy leaves the children to visit a friend, James enlists the romanticism of the highlands to air his feelings for Georgina.

This episode features a good deal of location footage; however, the video exhibits a great deal of combing throughout. The second of the extra episodes, its placement at this point in the timeline is incongruous with Hudson's prior storyline.

4.5 dinner bells.





Joke Over - Summer 1928

"One ought to try everything." - Georgina

Georgina has Eaton place to herself, and returns home with a group of her rowdy friends, out on an adventure to placate the boredom of their otherwise purposeless existence. Over the objections of one young man, Georgina forces Edward to give her the keys to the Rolls. The results of their drunken revelry jeopardizes Edward's position, and Georgina gets a sobering lesson.

Madeleine Cannon returns as the frivolous and irresponsible Lady Dolly, representing the nonchalance of the idle rich. Our first real introduction to Lord Robert, Marquis of Stockbridge (Anthony Andrews).

3.5 dinner bells.





Noblesse Oblige - Summer 1929

"There's no dedication, no pride in work like there used to be." - Mrs. Bridges

A complete surprise to everybody, Georgina becomes engaged to Lord Robert. While Richard welcomes the news, Georgina's notoriety is not going over well with Lord Stockbridge's parents. Ruby's abrupt departure leaves Mrs. Bridges without a kitchenmaid, and gives Daisy ideas about she and Edward seeking new employment themselves. Ruby's replacement is an obstinate young girl, whose open defiance has Mrs. Bridges in a fit.

The downstairs storyline is nothing new for the series, but reaction to Elaine Donnelly's portrayal of Mabel, and Jenny Tomasin's situation with her new employer (Joan Sanderson, who many may recognize from her Fawlty Towers appearance) makes for great comedy. While this was the third bonus episode produced, it is vital for the continuity of the season finale.

4 dinner bells.





All the King's Horses - October 1929

"The stock market is no place for the likes of us." - Hudson

James returns from America, bearing gifts and news of his newfound wealth in the stock market, leading Rose to enlist his help in investing her inheritance. When word reaches Eaton Place that the market has crashed, leaving both of them wiped out, Richard learns of James' involvement with the servants' money, which erupts into a fierce argument. In its wake, the crushing financial news will not be the worst heard in the Bellamy residence.

"It has been a sad family, this." - Mary

This is Mary's (Pippa Page) one and only episode. The video here also suffers from constant combing.

5 dinner bells.





Whither Shall I Wander? - Summer 1930

"It'll be a very sad day when we all have to leave this house." - Hudson

To settle James' debts, Eaton Place and its contents are to be sold off. Devastated by what has transpired, and fearing that her separation from Lord Stockbridge will mean the end to her marriage plans, Georgina is withdrawn and morose, spurring Virginia into complicity with Sir Geoffrey. The air of uncertainty is cause for concern downstairs, when it is clear that their service will no longer be required.

"We've seen an awful lot of history together." - Richard Bellamy

The series finale brings a fitting end to the story, tying up the loose ends, and providing for each character's future. It is marked by more than one auspicious occasion, and appropriately, with Rose making her first appearance at the Bellamy home in the very first episode, the finale bookmarks the series, as Rose leaves Eaton place for the last time—through the front doors.

5 dinner bells.



Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Of the five seasons now available on DVD, save for a couple of episodes noted above, the video quality on this set fares the best, though is still below par, which A&E adequately warns of on the packaging. The image is naturally on the soft side, and colors are slightly muted. There is still a fairly murky appearance at times, and colors seem on the greenish side, but the abundance of flaws in the source material found on previous seasons are largely missing, though minor dropouts, some shimmer, a few rough edits, the usual flaring, and color bleed are present. Exteriors fare the worst in the quality department. Encoding errors, other than that noted for the first episode, are rare, with any visual defects attributable to the source material.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is consistent with previous seasons, being serviceable, but not outstanding. Hiss, a bit of crackling during certain episodes, and the odd minor pop can be found throughout. Dialogue, assuming one can adjust to the accents, is easy to discern in all but a few places. While not overly full range, the frequency coverage is adequate, without being tinny or muffled.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 96 cues and remote access
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Extras are nonexistent outside the principle motion menus and the six chapters per episode. The four discs are housed in a sturdy, rust-colored, cardboard box consistent with the rest of the series, which again contains promo shots of characters not belonging to the season. Spoilers abound in both the episode synopses and the disc menus.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

The story of the lives of the Bellamy family and their servants at 165 Eaton Place comes to a close with the 16 episodes contained in the fifth and final season of Upstairs, Downstairs, concluding one of the finest period dramas ever produced. Superbly written and directed, the full 68 episodes combine to form an unforgettable and sweeping journal, set against the backdrop of the early twentieth century, as events unfold in and outside the household. While the epic story proves highly entertaining in its own right, it is the characters, passionately brought to life by a highly capable cast, who are at the heart of this series. The audience shares in their jubilation and despair, the levity and the tragedy, the romance, frustrations, action and drama in this rewarding and engaging serial, and as bittersweet tears well up with the rolling of the final credits, I can only be thankful that I have these magnificent characters and their stories at my disposal on DVD, and my memories of the time I have spent with them.

Only the technical quality of the source material prohibits my highest recommendation.

 


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